Article for Balance Student Arts Publication - Spring 2008
It’s easy to get lost in the rigors of academic routines. Many of our majors reside in the studio around the clock, breaking only occasionally to change their socks and underwear. The discipline and dedication is admirable, but it’s imperative to fuel creative energy outside of the classroom, as well.
My usual recommendation to students hitting that counter-productive wall of frustration is to opt for a change of scenery. Sometimes it’s best to back off of the project, or step away from the computer, and simply get some fresh air. It’s during these times that inspiration sneaks up in the most unlikely of places.
In addition to the traditional studio education, students need to realize that there is an abundant creative resource in new experiences. The more we engage ourselves with the world around us, the more we grow. The art critic Jerry Saltz once said, “all artists are vampires,” feeding off of all that has come before them and all that is around them, and in turn, become the embodiment of their collective experience.
One of the defining moments that lead me to pursue a life in the creative arts was an experience that took place beyond the confines of the studio. I was a junior at Moravian College, and though the cost of traveling abroad seemed well beyond my means, I was sold on the experience as one that would have a lasting impact and alter the way I looked at art and the world. With some creative financing, and a traveling work-study stipend that required only that I track down classical architectural and artistic masterpieces for inclusion in the department’s slide library, I was off to explore Italy.
Having recently experienced an artistic epiphany in the studio, following an exploration of Van Gogh’s reed pen drawings, I took to the streets of Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome with my Fodor’s travel guide and sketchbook in tow. Being immersed in a culture that I had only experienced in the grainy slides of early morning art history and the color plates of Jansen’s History of Art was truly an eye-opening experience. The drawings I produced in that short three-week period had a new found energy that echoed the excitement of this new and fascinating environment.
For the fortunate students who have had the pleasure of studying abroad with our faculty, I’m sure the experience has been equally rewarding. Beyond the sites of some of the greatest artistic achievements known to man, traveling abroad offers a new perspective of the world around us and perhaps more importantly, an unforgettable personal experience filled with unique stories to last a lifetime.
While traveling abroad is an excellent way to be thrust into a new and inspiring environment, there are countless other options available on a more local scale.
In 2002, I developed the Plein Air Painting course for summer session after coming to the realization that many students here on campus were completely unaware of the vast array of unique destinations all within an hour’s drive of the university, and some even within walking distance.
With the class originally designed to offer respite from the four walls of the studio and to provide a strategy for approaching the landscape, I soon realized that the true purpose of the course was immersion in experience. I now preface the course with the idea that it is much more of an existential experience and that the painting is just a by-product, or better yet, a response to the overall experience.
It seems that much too often, students become focused on the end product and forget the importance of the journey itself. Since there are no prerequisites for the course, there are many students who arrive with little to no experience in landscape painting. Most have preconceived ideas of what a good landscape painting should look like, thanks to the half-hour optimistic mastery of Bob Ross, and are easily frustrated when their results do not meet their expectations.
Instead of focusing on the product, what I hope to pass on to the students is the enjoyment of the process. For me, personally, there is no greater way to experience the world than through observation and visual response. The artist becomes keenly aware in this communion and the sketch or painting, in turn becomes a visual diary of a very specific experience.
Not surprisingly, the travel journals kept by the students over the duration of the course rarely focus on the technical aspects of their work. Instead they are littered with humorous anecdotes and memorable experiences. It’s the inane banter and philosophical discussions on the trail that create the unique camaraderie among the class.
While I aim to provide the students a method of approach to tackle the complexity of the landscape, it’s my ultimate goal that they begin to understand the importance of actively engaging in new experiences and the wealth of creative growth such endeavors have to offer.